Cassandra Khaw's recent article in The Verge ("Can 'Mixed Reality Living Spaces' fix our overcrowded future?") strikes a chord for me. Here in New York City, the average price per square foot for real estate runs about $1,395, which means there are a whole lot of folks here searching for innovative ways to expand increasingly smaller spaces. The one proposed solution - augmented reality to transform the perception of tiny abodes into more palatial environments - is certainly compelling to more people than just students living in tiny dorm rooms. But I'll admit that the more physical solutions suggested in Khaw's article (see embedded videos by the MIT Media Lab and Hong Kong architect Gary Chang) seem a bit more compelling.
I first saw augmented reality (AR) in a 2007 BMW video, in which a mechanic puts on a pair of super-charged specs, layering his view under the hood with visual instructions for changing out a part. (The same idea seems to be gaining ground in other industries.) When I saw the BMW video, I was developing builder training, and AR definitely piqued my interest: What if, for example, you could augment your view of what's behind the drywall, perhaps showing visual force vectors on framing to teach statics, or overlaying video graphics that would make heat and moisture transfer visible to teach building science?
Steven Feiner of Columbia University's user-interface lab, along with Anthony Webster of Columbia's School of Architecture, began working along these lines in the early 1990's, reporting on how they used a head-mounted display to "reveal" the structure in a room (or more precisely: to "overlay a graphical representation of a building's structure on the user's view of a room," as described in the report: "Architectural Anatomy"). A year later, the same team developed an AR-approach to guide users through the assembly of a space-frame, using a hand-held scanner to identity components, and a head-worn display to show where each component should be installed (see "Augmented Reality in Architectural Construction, Inspection, and Renovation"). Maybe this technology could be used to turn carpenters into robots (no skill needed; just follow the directions). But I tend to be a bit more optimistic: I think there are much better ways to convey information, better ways to teach, and the graphic possibilities of AR hold immense promise.
These days, Google Glass owns the headlines in the AR domain, having brought the term "wearable HUDs" (heads-up displays) into the lime light (although Google Glass is hardly the only contender: see "Top 5 Google Glass alternatives"). Every day, new technologies are moving beyond a pair of eyeglasses to more dynamic visual displays like those imagined in the 2002 film, Minority Report. And advertisers are beginning to exploit the concept, bringing us closer to another kind of augmented reality envisioned in the same 2002 movie.
So far, AR seems to have more traction in real-estate, and perhaps interior design (or at least shopping for home interiors), than home building. My personal experiences with AR aren't as exciting as the videos make it out to be. I find it glitchy. "Not enough bars" seems to be the issue. Maybe I don't have the right phone service, or maybe AR just isn't there yet. (Please let me know if you have a different experience!) But I'm still intrigued. I'd love to see JLC in the future. And, you know, 2021 really isn't that far away now.